There are a lot of studies conducted about what helps kids avoid poor outcomes in life — and far fewer studies about what actually makes kids thrive and flourish.
Now, a new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics has found that there are factors in a child’s family life that can help them not just be healthy and happy, but to flourish and thrive.
And it’s all about two words: family connection.
In fact, children who reported strong family connection were 49% more likely to also report that they were thriving in life.
The sweeping, global study surveyed over 37,000 children in 26 countries around the world — meaning that the results go beyond culture and other simple environmental factors. The survey asked them a series of questions about their life and found a big trend: kids who reported having a close bond with their family also reported that they were succeeding in life.
The concept of “family life” was broken down into five different categories: care, support, safety, respect, and participation, and kids were asked questions about each different focus, such as how safe they feel at home.
To determine if the kids were flourishing, researchers asked the kids questions about six different areas of success: self-acceptance, purpose in life, positive relations with others, personal growth, environmental mastery and autonomy.
The study corrected for big, primary issues that can hold children back, like food insecurity and poverty, and found that even kids whose families struggled when it came to resources thrived significantly more often if their family still provided them with emotional support and care.
It’s notable that this study doesn’t just determine if kids are avoiding things like anxiety or depression, but that they are achieving better-than-average outcomes when it comes to health, happiness, and success.
"What was different about this study was it showed that family connection is associated with thriving and not just surviving or avoiding harm," Dr. Robert Whitaker, director of the Columbia-Bassett research program at Columbia University and lead author on the study told CNN.
How to make your family bond stronger
Perhaps the best news about this study is that it’s not rocket science to make your family bonds stronger. In fact, after analyzing the data, Whitaker thinks a great place to start is simply through spending family time together. You hear it all the time, but that’s what the research consistently shows us.
He suggests keeping communication open and making your home a safe place to share thoughts and feelings.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a sit down dinner with your kids every night or that you have to engage in enriching conversation and activity constantly. It can just mean something as simple as doing chores or running errands together — or hanging out in the same room while quietly doing different activities.
"We don't necessarily need to fill those moments with chatter or the radio," Whitaker said.